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HomeArticlesHow to Become a Private Investigator in California | Schools, Requirements

How to Become a Private Investigator in California | Schools, Requirements

How to Become a Private Investigator in California. Following individuals and being weird in their presence does not qualify you as a private investigator. In reality, that’s where you go wrong. Apart from a high degree of skill, being a professional private agent requires a legal license, which you may obtain if you know how. That is why we have detailed in this post the steps you must follow if you want to become a Private Investigator in California.

California has the greatest amount of private investigator employment in the United States. It implies that if you obtain a California private investigator license, you will have a plethora of career prospects. Hence, if you are truly committed to advancing your profession, we recommend that you read this essay thoroughly and without skimming. Remember, we’re not telling you this to keep you here for a long time; we just want you to get nothing but the finest, which is our top goal.

This article explains how to become a private investigator in California, as well as the steps for obtaining a private investigator’s license.

Table of Contents

Who is a Private Investigator?

A private investigator is someone who may be hired by individuals or organisations to conduct legal investigations. Private investigators frequently assist attorneys in both civil and criminal matters. A private investigator, sometimes known as a private detective or agent, is someone who looks into things, gathers facts, and analyzes information regarding legal, financial, and personal concerns.

This professional can work full-time or on a contract basis for private detective firms, police agencies, private enterprises, attorneys, and organizations, as well as individual clients. In general, private investigators do pre-employment background checks, investigate allegations of employee theft, and establish or refute adultery in divorce cases.

What are the Roles of a Private Investigator?

Private investigators are involved in a variety of employment tasks. Some, for example, concentrate on process serving, which is the personal delivery of summonses, subpoenas, and other legal papers to parties in a court proceeding. Apart from that, Private Investigators do the following tasks:

  • Private Agents
  • Private Detectives

Private Agents collect information that can be utilized for vital purposes such as proof. They accomplish this through interviews, private investigations, and monitoring. In addition, when performing a background check, they interview persons. They accomplish this by either impersonating someone else or going undercover.

They also do other sorts of searches on digital and non-computerized records. Utilizing the computer and other technologies allows them to do their tasks quickly and efficiently. Furthermore, when studying the facts in a case, they employ a range of methods. They employ techniques such as past criminal records, phone numbers, social networking site information, and emails.

When researching a matter, a private investigator, or PI, conducts surveillance. They accomplish this by keeping an eye on someone’s office, residence, or circle of contacts. Moreover, they may snap photographs or videos of the subject of interest.

Private Detectives can investigate the origins of various crimes, invest people, investigate the causes of accidents, fires, injuries or losses, a missing person, lost or stolen goods, or acquire evidence for use in court. To be honest, you must have a good eye, strong observation skills, and an analytical mind to become a private investigator.

Why Do You Need to Become a Private Investigator in California?

There are various reasons why you might consider being a private investigator in California. To begin with, California is one of the largest states in the United States, having a diverse range of Private Agents work prospects. As a result, there is an increased need for PIs. It implies that if you get a California private investigator license, you’ll be able to get a legal work right away.

Surprisingly, you may collaborate with Fortune 500 corporations to screen potential investors and business partners. They can also collaborate with insurance firms and employers to verify workplace injury claims.

Furthermore, acquiring a license in California will not be difficult because the state alone has roughly 450 licenses planned to be awarded each year to assist satisfy the strong demand. Furthermore, becoming a private investigator in California pays handsomely. According to the BLS, the typical annual salary for private investigators in California runs from $79,640 to $122,410, which is more than the state average of $64,110.

What Education Qualification do You need to become a PI in California?

Before you may work as a private investigator in California, you must have the following schooling or academic credentials.

  • Have either undergraduate or associate degree in police science, criminal justice, or criminal law.
  • You must have had a professional investigation experience. Either you have worked with the police or CIA for 24 months.
  • You must have passed the written state exam organized by California PSI.
  • Also, having a training certificate in private investigations can really help you although it’s optional.

What are California Private Investigator License Requirements?

To perform private investigation in California, you must first get a license. These qualifications include your age, history, education, training, and experience working under a registered PI. Let’s go through some of the requirements.

  • First, you must be 18 years and above.
  • You must submit to a criminal history fingerprint check to prove you have no criminal convictions.
  • If you have any financial history that shows you are bankrupt, you may not get a license.
  • Bonding isn’t requisite in California, it can be essential to protect your business against liability.
  • Pass a two-hour multiple-choice examination covering laws and regulations, terminology, civil and criminal liability, evidence handling, undercover investigations, and surveillance.

Notably, California does not have stipulations for military discharge. Also, there is no provisional license in California.

What Skills Are Required to Function as a Private Detective?

If you have all of the fundamental educational qualifications but lack the necessary abilities to operate as a private investigator, believe me, you might make a big mistake. It is anticipated that you have specific talents in order to be an amazing and competent PI. You can pursue this job with these talents. Some of the major skill sets necessary to become a private investigator in California are as follows:

  • Effective Communication Skills
  • Computer Proficiency
  • Sound knowledge of the law
  • Photography skills
  • Organization
  • Patience
  • keen eye,
  • Excellent observation skills
  • Analytical mind

Where Can Private Investigators Work?

Private Investigators with the aforementioned qualifications can work in a variety of settings. The following are some of the areas:

  • Computer forensics services
  • Personal protection services
  • Undercover investigations
  • Supplier, vendor, and employee screening programs
  • Crisis intervention services
  • Pre-employment screenings
  • Personal investigations
  • Retail loss and prevention
  • Criminal investigation services
  • Polygraph services
  • Missing person services

How much does a Private Investigator make?

The average yearly income for private investigators in California in 2019 was $64,110, according to BLS data. Yet, if you have a strong résumé and a few years of experience, you will earn more. In summary, the wealthiest 10% earn an average of $106,300. The BLS statistics below show the median-to-top 10% wage range for PIs working in California’s major areas:

  • Los Angeles-Long Beach: $79,640-$122,410 (approximately 620 licensed PIs)
  • Fresno: $85,440-$103,030 (approximately 60 licensed PIs)
  • San Francisco, Oakland: $73,980-$123,010 (approximately 320 licensed PIs)
  • Sacramento: $47,930-$75,000 (approximately 500 licensed PIs)
  • Riverside-San Bernardino: $61,680-$87,750 (approximately 130 licensed PIs)

How Long Does It Take to Become a Private Investigator?

To operate as a private investigator in California, you must have either a four-year degree in Criminal Justice from an approved institution or two years of law enforcement experience at a federal, county, state, or municipal level agency.

How to become a Private Investigator in the State of California?

In this part, we will take you step by step on how to become a private investigator. You will also learn how to properly execute each step. Thus, the processes you must do to become a medical scribe are as follows:

1. Get the required Education Qualification or Experience

This is the first step in becoming a California private investigator. Private detection, like all other occupations, demands a certain academic degree before you can practice. You can acquire an undergraduate degree in criminal justice, law, or police science, or you can get an associate degree in two years. Besides from a degree, you can pursue a three-year training program in that sector. Working with the police or any other investigating agency will be quite beneficial in this situation.

Next, if you have a weapons permit and require a PI license, you must complete an 8-hour “Power to Arrest” course. Please submit your application and any supporting documentation to BSIS, P.O. Box 989002, West Sacramento, CA 95798-9002.

2. Fingerprint Verification in California

There is another another step you must complete if you want to work as a private investigator in California. BSIS uses these fingerprints to conduct a criminal history check. Upon the completion of your educational degree, you must complete the Live Scan Fingerprint Application. You can accomplish this at any of the country’s centers. For example, you can select Los Angeles or San Diego, which have the most fingerprint centers.

3. Include a quality Passport

While submitting your application form, you must include a high-quality passport. In other places, the fees are around $15.

4. Carefully Fill and Submit California’s Application Packet

This step is critical since any mistakes might result in you not receiving your license. As a result, you must use extreme caution. You must be over the age of 18 to fill out the application. In addition, the following papers must be included:

  • Application Form
  • Personal Identification Form
  • Certificate in Support of Experience
  • Authorization of Business Name (if applicable)
  • Two Passport-Type Photos (2”X 1-1/2”)
  • Firearms Qualification and Firearms Permit Application (if applicable)
  • Live Scan Receipt
  • Check or Money Order for $50 ($130 if requesting firearms permit)

5. Go for the California Private Investigator Examination

After your application is approved, Psychological Services Industries will contact you or send you a letter with a handbook and other study resources needed to prepare for the exam. The test lasts two hours and includes questions on terminology, laws/regulations, civil/criminal responsibility, evidence handling, and surveillance. If you pass the exam, you must pay a fee of $175 to acquire your license.

6. Purchase Insurance for your Private Investigation Company

You will need insurance for your business whether you are a sole owner, LLC, or corporation. Most businesses obtain $100,000 in Errors and Omissions Insurance. Yet, California requires an LLC to carry $1,000,000 in general liability insurance as well as insurance for each qualified management in the organization.

The Certificate of Liability should be sent to the Bureau online to or by mail to P.O. Box 989002, West Sacramento, CA 95798 by the insurer or the insurer’s agent or broker.

7. Begin Working as a Private Investigator in California

Based on your background, you will be able to offer your skills to:

  • Investigate Crimes
  • Locate Missing People
  • Investigate Fires
  • Conduct Insurance Investigations
  • Conduct Surveillance
  • Work as a Private Investigator legally

What can Cause Denial of Private Investigator License?

Even if you apply correctly, the Director of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Live Scan may reject you a PI license if you fall into any of the categories stated below.

  • Have a criminal record behind your motivation for applying.
  • Have committed any act involving dishonesty, fraud or deceit with the intent to substantially benefit himself or herself, or injure another.
  • Also, if you have committed any act which, if done by a licensee of the business or profession in question, would be grounds for suspension or revocation of the license.
  • Gave a false statement of fact required to be revealed on the license application.
  • Had a license which is under suspension.
  • Finally, if you been refused a license or had a license revoked, or been an owner, partner, corporate officer, managing member, or qualified manager of any business that has been refused a license or had a license revoked by the Bureau.

What are the Schools that can help you become a Private Investigator in California?

One of the key requirements for obtaining a private investigator’s legal license is completion of a two-year associate’s degree or a four-year bachelor’s program in a criminal justice-related field. And in order to obtain any of these degrees, you must attend either a university or a college. Because California has the highest employment rate of private investigators in America, most of the major institutions and schools in the state provide mandatory courses.

This is to enable students who are interested in pursuing a career as private investigators get the opportunities they deserve. Also, to meet the huge demand. Thus, if you’re looking for a school in California where you may study criminology, police science, or any other subject that will help you earn a license in private investigation, go no further than the list of schools below.

  • University of Southern California
  • University of California-Davis
  • Chaffey College
  • University of San Diego
  • University of Phoenix-California
  • Carrington College-Sacramento
  • UEI College-Fresno
  • UEI College-Bakersfield
  • United Education Institute-Huntington Park Campus
  • UEI College-Gardena
  • Southwestern Law School
  • United Education Institute-Encino
  • UEI College-Riverside
  • United Education Institute-Chula Vista
  • Santa Barbara Business College-Santa Maria
  • Abraham Lincoln University
  • California Aeronautical University
  • Carrington College-Citrus Heights
  • University of California-Berkeley
  • Carrington College-San Leandro
  • Santa Barbara Business College-Bakersfield
  • Carrington College-Pleasant Hill
  • United Education Institute-UEI College San Marcos
  • Carrington College-Stockton
  • Humphreys University-Stockton and Modesto Campuses

Lets take a short look at some of these schools

1. University of Southern California

The University of Southern California is one of the top schools in California for aspiring private investigators. The University of Southern California is a tiny top research university founded in Los Angeles in 1880. It has 47,310 students enrolled, a 92% graduation rate, and a 13% admission rate. This institution primarily provides studies in business, law, film, engineering, occupational therapy, pharmacy, and medicine.

Studying criminology or a similar topic at USC Gould School of Law will assist you in obtaining a private investigator’s license. In terms of employment, it is the largest private employer in the whole city of Los Angeles. Because of its low acceptance rate, admission to this university can be quite tough.

  • Address: Los Angeles, CA 90007, United States

2. University of California, Berkeley

The University of California Berkeley is another excellent choice for private investigators seeking an associate or bachelor’s degree in the appropriate areas. The University of California, Berkeley, was founded in 1868 as a public research institution. It has a total student enrolment of 42,501, a graduation rate of 92%, and an acceptance rate of 15%, making it one of the most competitive colleges in the United States.

This institution essentially provides 184 Academic Departments and Programs grouped across 14 colleges and schools. The School of Law is one of 14 schools at this institution, with a 97% employment rate and a 91% bar passage rate, both of which are highly good.

  • Address: Berkeley, CA, United States

3. University of San Diego

University of San Diego is another private investigator school in California worth considering. The University was founded in 1949 as a private Roman Catholic research university. It has a total student enrolment of 9,073, a graduation rate of 78%, and an admission rate of 52%, making it somewhat simpler to get into. Essentially, the university provides over 80 bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees across 9 undergraduate and graduate schools, including the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering, Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies, and School of Law.

According to U.S. News & World Report, this institution also offers a Master’s in Law Enforcement and Public Safety Leadership, which is ranked 19th in the US for top online graduate criminal justice programs.

  • Address: 5998 Alcala Park, San Diego, CA 92110, United States

4. Abraham Lincoln University

Abraham Lincoln University is also regarded as one of the best colleges for aspiring private investigators. This is an unaccredited for-profit online institution created in 1996 in Glendale, California. It is a modest college with only 217 students enrolled. Nonetheless, with an acceptance rate of 81%, it is the least selective.

ALU primarily provides online Associate, Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctoral degrees, as well as diplomas and certifications, in subjects such as Law, Criminal Justice, Paralegal Studies, Business Administration, General Studies, and Information Technology.

  • Address: 100 W Broadway #600, Glendale, CA 91210, United States

5. Chaffey College

If you want to become a private investigator, Chaffey College is one of the best California Private Detectives and Investigations colleges to consider. This college was founded in 1883 and is California’s oldest public community college. It boasts a total student enrolment of 22,969, a graduation rate of 22%, and a 100% admission rate, making it one of the easiest institutions to get into in California.

Chaffey primarily provides two-year associate degrees in art or science in academic or vocational subjects, one-year certificates of achievement, and transfer programs that fulfill the lower-division requirements for a bachelor degree at a four-year college or university.

  • Address: 5885 Haven Ave, Rancho Cucamonga, CA 91737, United States

Are Private Investigators Training Programs Necessary?

Of course, yes. They are really significant. In summary, training programs play a significant role in becoming a private investigator. That is, training is important to acquire the necessary abilities to assist you establish an amazing career as a PI. Although obtaining a degree is vital, it will not give you with the necessary abilities. Training, on the other hand, will.

Presently, 45 states in America need state licensure to become a private investigator, with another three requiring local licensing. But before that can happen, the candidate is expected to have some experience or pre-licensure training. And this training may be accomplished in two ways: obtaining the abilities required to function as a private investigator while also satisfying part or all of the education/experience criteria for state licensure.

Some of these training programs are 40 hours long, while others are 60 hours long and are geared to prepare students for their state’s PI test. You can consider some of the private investigator training programs below.

  • Training in Use of Force Laws and Code
  • Firearms Training
  • Non-Lethal Weapons Training
  • Pursuit and Evasive Driving
  • Surveillance and Surveillance Equipment
  • Investigative and Legal Training


A private investigator is someone who looks into things, gathers evidence, and analyzes data in legal, financial, and personal problems. According to the BLS, the typical annual salary for private investigators in California runs from $79,640 to $122,410, which is more than the state average of $64,110. Follow the procedures below to become a private investigator in California.

  • Get the required Education Qualification or Experience
  • Fingerprint Verification in California
  • Include a Quality Passport
  • Carefully Fill and Submit California’s Application Packet
  • Go for the California Private
  • Investigator Examination
  • Purchase Insurance for your Private Investigation Company

FAQs on How to Become a Private Investigator in California 

What qualifications do I need to be a private investigator?

While in most jurisdictions, there is no formal education requirement to become a private investigator, a degree in criminal justice may be beneficial. In fact, O*NET OnLine reports that most private investigators need a bachelor's degree to be hired, though many jobs only require a high school diploma or equivalent.

What can private investigators do legally in California?

Private investigators can handle a wide range of cases, including infidelity investigations, missing person cases, background checks, corporate fraud investigations, and more. They are often hired to gather information and evidence for divorce or child custody cases, and to investigate potential insurance fraud.

Are private investigators high demand?

Employment of private detectives and investigators is projected to grow 6 percent from 2021 to 2031, about as fast as the average for all occupations. About 3,700 openings for private detectives and investigators are projected each year, on average, over the decade.

How do I start my career as an investigator?

Graduate from the police academy and become a patrol officer. Earn necessary experience. Earn any certifications required by the local, state, or federal law enforcement agency. Apply for a job as a criminal investigator or earn a promotion.

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